Seven senior Turkish military officers have been charged over an alleged plot to topple a government which secularist hardliners fear is pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.
Turkey's top military commanders, who have seen the army's role as ultimate guardian of secularism eroded under European Union-backed reforms, held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday and warned in a statement of a "serious situation".
The Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, who denies any Islamist ambitions, also consulted overnight with his deputy and the interior and justice ministers.
Adding to the uncertainty, Turkey's chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, said he was looking into statements made by deputies from the ruling AK Party but had not reached the stage of opening a formal investigation.
The prosecutor tried to have the party banned for anti-secular activities in 2008. Speculation that he could try again has prompted talk that the government could call a snap election.
The AK Party, first elected with a landslide in 2002 over older, established parties blighted by corruption and accusations of misrule, is also embroiled in a dispute with the judiciary – another pillar of the orthodox establishment.
Turkey has seen four governments of various political hues ousted since 1960. Chances for another coup are seen as remote, but there is mounting anxiety over what the generals might do next and what strains the situation might produce in the forces' leadership. Turkey's Nato allies want to see the Muslim nation mature as a democracy. Its prospects of entering the EU depend in part on ending the special status that made the arrest of military personnel by civilian authorities inconceivable until recently.
The tensions were triggered by an unprecedented police swoop on Monday that detained around 50 serving and retired officers. The most senior detainees, retired Air Force Commander Ibrahim Firtina and ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, were being held at police headquarters in Istanbul, while retired admiral Ahmet Feyyaz Ogutcu and 11 other officers were sent to court for questioning, according to the CNN Turk news channel.
The seven charged overnight included four admirals, two retired and two serving, a retired brigadier-general and two retired colonels. They have been jailed awaiting trial. Pending a formal indictment, they are accused of belonging to a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government by force.
In a characteristically veiled and brief statement on its website on Tuesday, the General Staff said its top commanders had met to "assess the serious situation that has arisen".
"What do you mean? Are you going to carry out a coup?" said a headline in Taraf, which has broken several stories of alleged coup plots.
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